Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

@DerekSchooley Shares With Us a Defensive Zone Coverage Drill

Robert Morris University head ice hockey coach Derek Schooley sent over a defensive zone coverage drill that works on 1×1, 2×2 and 5×5 skills. This drill is excellent for use on half ice practices as well as full ice practice slots. Every coach needs to work on his teams defensive zone coverage throughout the year and this drill gives us a way to accomplish that goal while working on other defensive skills and keeping the tempo high.

Defensive Zone Coverage Drill


Click to Download the Drills

Click to Download the Drill

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Drills, Practice, Systems, , , ,

“The Beast” Penalty Kill System DVD

I purchased “The Beast” Peanlty Kill System DVD from Championship Productions two weeks ago and have watched it a few times since. My thought was that I would like to see what type of concepts Coach Arena was teaching that would be beneficial to my team. I have to say that if you are looking for some guidance on how to run a PK with your team this DVD will be a major help. Coach Arena goes through the entire system starting with the forecheck and continues through the neutral zone and into the defensive zone. His concept of keeping the 2 on 1 as far from the puck is spot on and if played properly can give your team an excellent chance to be a powerful penalty killing team.

Even though I’ve been coaching for almost thirty years I’m always trying to learn and improve, and I sure this DVD will help anyone who wants to teach his team how to be successful on the penalty kill. Championship Productions does a nice job with their video learning and if you haven’t checked them out yet you should give them a try. I recommend picking up a copy of “The Beast” Penalty Kill System, it’s well worth the small price tag.

On a personal note, after watching the video a few times I had some questions so I searched out Coach Arena and he answered my questions in detail and offered continuing help if I needed it.

Here is a link to the DVD.

The Beast Penalty Kill System

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Penalty Kill, Systems

Defensive Zone Concepts, Face-Offs and Drills Video

I recently watched a video by Rick Bennett head coach of Union College that describes his approach to defensive zone play. I found the DVD to be a well designed approach to the concepts needed to teach your team the proper approach to playing as a team as well as individual tactics needed to be successful. The video is about 40 minutes long and has a number of drills that you can use to work on your teams approach to playing defense.

Coach Bennett also utilizes his goalie coach to talk about what the goaltender should be doing during the play to stay involved and to communicate with his teammates. I think this is a very well spent $29.99. I suggest if you have questions about defensive zone play you should buy this DVD and learn what Coach Bennett is teaching.

On a personal note, after watching the DVD I had a few questions and I emailed Coach Bennett with those questions and within a few hours he replied with answers and an offer to speak with him directly. How often do you get the chance to interact with a DI head coach? I suggest you buy this video and give it a good look.

Here is a link to the website where you can purchase the DVD.

Defensive Zone Concepts DVD


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Systems

Neutral Zone Regroup Drills

Every coach has their own style of play through the neutral zone along with how they want their team to work a regroup. Below are a few drills that you can use to work on your teams NZ play along with a simple document on how to run two styles of NZ regroup. Hope these drills can be helpful.

NZ Regroup Philosophy
Hinge Drill
Hinge with Regroup Passing
D Shot with Hinge
2 on 1 with Pressure
3 Shot Quick-Up
Post-Up 2×0
Quick Up Shooting
St Johns Shooting
Tactical Shooting


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Drills, Offense, Systems

Teaching Defensive Zone Play

About seven years back I got this document from Casey Jones, then Associate Head Coach (Defense) for Ohio State University. It went through in some detail how OSU played defense and how the coaches went about teaching the system to the players. This document goes through some of the steps on how to teach the OSU defensive zone system to your team. The handwriting in the document is a little hard to read so I am also including a link to a version I created in DrillDraw that is easier to read but contains the same information. I hope you find this document helpful in teaching defense to your team.

Both documents are in PDF format and pretty large so be patient while they download.

Casey Jones Handwritten OSU System Notes

DrillDraw Version of the OSU System


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Systems

New Stuff – Plays and Systems Website

I thought it might be helpful to some of the coaches who visit our site if they had access to my team playbook. After last season I did this and it was a big success, so this year I took it a bit further. I’ve created a site for Ice Hockey Plays and Systems that you may have interest in using with your teams next season. Basically it’s a series of videos describing different plays and systems that I either use with my current teams or know enough about to share with my readers.

I have a section on off ice training that can help you get your team in shape during the summer months. The training drills need only a simple parking lot or open area along with some chalk and maybe a few cones. I’ve used this training regimen with my teams for the past three seasons and it has been well received by the players and shown success at the beginning of each season when my teams have started strong.

I have a section under “Printed Material” where all the plays are documented in DrillDraw format and can be printed out.

Currently I’ve loaded faceoff plays and breakouts as well as defensive zone coverage and penalty kill videos. I will continue to add content throughout the spring and summer so that by the time next season starts you will have a place you can send your players to if you want them to learn any of the plays or just use it yourself to help teach your team some of the information. I hope it’s something you’re interested in and it helps you with your team in some small way.

To visit the site go to

or just go to the normal drills site and click on the link on the right side of the page.

As always, thanks to all of you for your support and I will do my best to keep both sites loaded with useful and FREE content.


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Forecheck, Offense, Power Play, Systems

Team Play Principles

Offensive Zone Play

The objective of offensive team play is to move the puck as quickly as possible toward the opponents net to attempt to score a goal.  Hockey Canada outlines 4 basic principles to achieve this objective:

Principle # 1 Pressure
Principle # 2 Puck Control
Principle # 3 Support
Principle # 4 Transition

Principle # 1 Pressure

The principle of pressure means that all offensive team play is based on quick player or puck movement that forces the defender to react more quickly than they would like.  It creates TIME & SPACE for the attacker.

Pressure is accomplished by:

a) Speed: a quickness to attack that will limit the reaction time of the defender and force defensive error.

b) Concentration of Attack: any action or movement in a confined area which creates an offensive numerical advantage.

Principle # 2 Puck Control

A team which is able to maintain possesion of the puck will be able to create scoring opportunities.

Puck Protection is accomplished by:

a) Puck Protection: any action or movement that keeps the puck from the defender through the use of one’s body. (Example, driving to the net)

b) Individual Skills: the individual who develops quick skating strides, acceleration with the puck, drive skating, sculling, crossing over to cut in, and cutting to the net, will contribute to a teams ability to execute puck control.

Principle # 3 Support

Players away from the puck must involve themselves as a passing option and as part of the attack.  This requires that players are able to read the checking intentions and anticipate the movements of the puck carrier in order to react accordingly.

Support is accomplished by:

a) Triangulation: any offensive formation which creates offensive triangles, thus providing the puck carrier with two passing optionsand enabling the offensive team to create width and depth in the attack

b) Mid Lane: this applies to the offensive attack through the neutral zone which by passing to a teammate in the midlane or by carrying the puck from an outside lane to the midlane, the puck carrier is in position to initiate a play to either side.  In the offensive zone, teh attackers will also attempt to penetrate the slot (midlane) for a good scoring opportunity.

c) Numerical Advantage : good support can contribute to the pressure applied on the defense by creating numerical advantage and outnumbering the defenders in a confined area.

d) Movement: players away from the puck must be active in order to be involved in the attack.

e) Balance: although it is desirable to outnumber the opponent in the area of the puck, it is equally desirable to have balance in your attack by filling all three lanes.  This will assist in stretching the defense which increases the space and time available to the attacking team.

Principle # 4 Transition

This is defined as the ability of a team to quickly move from defense to offense and vice versa.

Transition is accomplished by the Counter Attack: this can be done quickly by a fast break (pressure) or in a controlled manner with puck control.

Defensive Team Play

Defense is the basic phase of the game during which your team does not have possession of the puck.  The purpose is to recover possession of the puck and/or prevent the opposition from scoring.  In order for any team to be successful, they need play well defensively.  Defensive team play has two basic objectives :

1.  Deny or restrict the use of time and space by the offensive team
2.  Regain possession of the puck or atleast limit puck possession by the opponent

Hockey Canada outlines 4 basic principles to achieve this objective:

Principle # 1 Pressure
Principle # 2 Stall/Contain
Principle # 3 Support
Principle # 4 Transition

Principle # 1 Pressure

Pressure reduces time and space.  Pressure is accomplished by:

a) Speed – quickness to defend – limit offensive options – force errors
b) Pursuit – involves immediate and correct angling to limit opponent’s options
c) Concentration – grouping of defensive players to restrict space
d) Commit – determines whether the defensive player commits or contain the offensive player with the puck

Principle # 2 Stall/Contain

Force the opponent to stop or slow down the speed of the attack.  Allow time for better defensive coverage.  The defensive player pressures directly or steers the opponent to the outside lane.  This is accomplished by holding the ice (as ub a two on one), keeping defensive side positioning, and forcing to the outside.

Principle # 3 Support

Support means that the defensive player must be active away from the puck by reducing the passing options and reading and reacting to the movement of the offensive players.  This is usually accomplished by man to man or zone coverage.  It also requires that the defensive team is not outnumbered in the defensive zone.

Principle # 4 Transition

The defensive team must be alert to change quickly from defense to offense when possession of the puck is gained from your opponent’s.

Basic Hockey Guidelines

Defensive Zone
–  Think defense first and offense only when in full control of the puck
–  Keep your head up and take the man first and then the puck.  Take the offensive man out after he has passed the puck to eliminate a return pass.
–  Cover the slot at all times.  Move to a man coming from behind the net only when he is a direct threat to score.
–  One defenseman should always be in front of the net and control any player in the low slot area.  The defenseman should face up ice and be aware of players in front of the net.  To watch the play in the corner, the defenseman should turn his head but keep his body squared up ice.  The defenseman should not turn his back from the slot area unless a player is coming from behind the net and is a direct threat to score.
–  When the defenseman has the puck just inside the blue line and is being pressured, he should dump the puck out over the blue line on the board side.
–  When experiencing difficulty in moving th epuck out under pressure, freeze or ice the puck to get a face-off.
–  Never pass the puck rink wide or through the center in your own end.
–  Never pass the puck without looking in your own zone.  The man must be there.
–  Don’t shoot the puck arounds the boards unless a man is in position to receive it
–  Never go backward in your own zone unless you are on a Power Play or there is no forechecking pressure.
–  Never allow your team to be putnumbered in the defensive zone (ex. forwards are too high)

Neutral Zone – Offense
– If teammates are covered, dump the puck in or turn back and pass it to the defense, and then regroup and attack again.
–  Never try to stickhandle past the opposition when teammates are with you
–  The forwards without the puck should move to open ice with their stick on the ice, preparing to take a pass.
–  Never go offside, straddle the blue line or cut in front of or behind the puck carrier.

Neutral Zone – Defense
–  Backcheck by picking up the offside forward.  Take the man to the net if he stays outside the defenseman.  If the player cuts to the middle in front of the defense, stay in the lane.  The backchecker should be on the inside of the offensive man, and slightly ahead of him.
–  If the backchecker is trailing the play, pick up the high slot area.

Offensive Zone
–  One man always drives to the net (drive for the rebounds, you must want to score, release the puck quickly)
–  Shoot the puck when in a key scoring area (slot).  Extra passes can end up in misses opportunities.
–  The defenseman should shoot the puck quickly from the point.  If you are pressured from the point, dump it in the corner.

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Offense, Systems

Defensive Zone Coverage

Players need to accept defensive responsibilities as a crucial part of the game and understand the importance of keeping things simple and basic in your own zone. If you make a mistake in your own end, the opposition will get a direct scoring chance. Some key elements of Defensive Zone Coverage (DZC) is proper positioning on the ice, hard work, communication with your teammates, and keeping things basic.

There are several systems that teams use for their DZC, but the end result is the same; to get back possession of the puck and go from defense to offense. There is not one system that is better than the other; it is just based on what the coaching staff is comfortable with and the strength of the players.

At an early age, all players must work with some form of Zone Defense, so they get familiar with their basic positioning on the ice. As players get older, they will probably get familiar with more advanced systems, such as man to man, or Box plus One.

I will be discussing a system which is called “The Combination”. The name originates from the fact that this system is a combination of zone defense and man to man coverage.

Combination DZC
The “Combination DZC” is a system that many PRO and Junior teams use. Although some teams might call it different names, this system is basically a combination of Man to Man coverage with a Zone Defense.

This system includes both conservative and aggressive elements, which make it very useful for teams to be successful. The conservative aspect is that each of the 5 players is responsible for one of the five areas in the defensive zone (Zone Defense), whereas the aggressive aspect comes from the fact that players are given the freedom to leave their area and help out a teammate in another area (when you are out numbered in a certain area of the zone). Players are encouraged to pressure the puck and be pro-active in the defensive zone, not re-active.

– move in and challenge the puck carrier
– pressure/contain/stall your man
– keep your eyes up on his chest
– stay between your man and the net (defensive side positioning)
– keep a tight gap if possible

– protect the front of the net area
– control opponents stick, play tough, keep defensive side positioning (referees allow more physical play when battling in front of the net, be aggressive)
– if your man moves away from net area (high slot), you need to stay in his shooting lane, and take a few strides in his direction
– if puck changes corner, or area, you have to read your defensive partner, you can either wait for your partner to come protect the net area and then you go and pressure the puck carrier (release), or you can stay in front of the net and let your partner go and pressure the puck carrier in the opposite corner. Either way there always needs to be a defenseman in front of the net (Communication with your partner is very important).

– the first forward into the defensive zone (not necessarily the center) plays down low supporting D1 battling for the puck
– always stay in between your man and the net
– do not over commit where one pass can beat two players (yourself and D1)
– if defenseman gets beat, play the 2 on 1 and stall play as much as possible
– if puck changes corner, you need to follow the puck to opposite corner and continue supporting defenseman (stay down low)

– the second forward back into the zone should cover the weak side slot area, secure middle of the rink
– keep your head on a swivel, know where puck and your point man is at all times
– your main responsibility is to protect the front of the net (slot area), and your second responsibility is the weak side point man (although this can vary depending on coaches philosophy)
– make sure weak side point man does not sneak around you and rush to the net
– Be ready to block shots

– the third forward back into the zone should cover the strong side point.
– keep your head on a swivel; you are responsible for strong side point man, make sure he does not beat you to the net by going around you
– stay in between your man and the net, staying away from the boards to take away the lane to the net
– be ready to sag down low if necessary if a teammate gets beat and your team is outnumbered in the slot area
– you are responsible for defending the high cycle, staying with your point man
– Be ready to block shots

Overall Key Points to DZC:
– ALWAYS protect the net area
– Always stay in between your opponent and the net (defensive side positioning)
– Never give up a second scoring opportunity
– Team work is key
– If back checking forwards are not sure where to go  ALWAYS go down to the slot area and figure it out from there.
– When blocking a shot you must get directly in front of the shooter.
– When the puck is along the boards the first defender takes the body and the second get the puck
– For F2 & F3, always be ready to SAG to the net/slot area if a teammate down low gets beat
– Some teams (coaches) switch F2 & F3 responsibilities (example they have F2 cover the strong side point). Either way, forwards need to understand the importance of having all 5 players back in the defensive zone as quickly as possible
– Some coaches want their weak side defenseman (in front of the net) to play man on man with the player in the slot area and follow him wherever he goes (man on man)

-Defense at the Posts  when opposing player is behind your net with the puck
-Defense at the Posts (DAP) is making sure to cut off the opposition at the goal line, by preventing the offensive player from attacking the net from below the goal line.
-If opposition is set up in back of the net, have both defenseman protecting one post each, facing the puck carrier behind the net.
-F1 should be in the low slot area, ready to protect one of the posts that are left vacant by a defenseman that has attacked the puck carrier.
-F2 & F3 should sag down in the high slot, with a head on a swivel making sure they are aware of their point men.
-Always try to make attacking player come out behind the net on his backhand.

Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defense, Systems, , ,

Golden Rules for Defensemen

These Golden rules are the key items players should be striving to master as they progress up through the ranks to high school and college. The best players at the highest levels of hockey follow the Golden Rules most often.

A player of average skills and speed will do very well if these rules are mastered. While the rules are basic and seem obvious, it may take many years of concentrated effort for most players to automatically perform them properly. This automatic reaction is what coaches should be teaching and players working towards.

1. Always back your partner — on the offensive blue line, in the neutral zone and especially in the defensive zone.

2. Always one defenseman in front of the net when the opposition has the puck in your zone or there is danger that they may gain possession. For young defenseman, (mites through early PeeWees) the rule should always be one defenseman in front of the net when the puck is in your zone.

3. Do not leave the offensive zone too soon. Leaving too soon is a much more common mistake than leaving too late for a large percentage of defensemen from mites through high school. It backs the defense up too fast and too far and makes “pacing” the attacking forward much harder.

4. Always play defense first. If attacking with the puck, only go deep into the offensive zone until the prime scoring opportunity is over — and you are part of it.

5. Never play a 1-on-1 head on. Give the attacker a little room on one side to force him to go where you want him to go.

6. Stagger one defenseman up a little farther than the other in 2-on-2 and 3-on-2 situations. The up man will generally be nearest to the puck carrier.

7. Shoot intelligently from the point. The best shot is always low, generally not too hard (so it stays in the scoring area for rebounds) and accurate. Defensmen seldom are shooting to score, but rather to put the puck into the scoring area so that forwards can score. Always look up so shots are not into opposing players and so that passes to wide wings or partner can be made when appropriate.

8. Do not “tie-up” with people in front of the net, rather gain position and control.

9. Do not ever “tie-up” with an opposing player anywhere when your team is a man short. As the players on the team with a penalty tie up and are out of the play, the odds get better on the power play, i.e. 4-on-3 is better than 5-on-4, 3-on-2 is better than 4-on-3, etc.

10. Do not stand looking for someone to pass to, especially in the defensive zone. Look-move-look-pass. This reduces the chances of being surprised from the back or side, makes the pass more accurate and forces the opponent to begin retreating.

11. When turning with a player breaking around the outside, keep the feet moving — do not lunge or reach without moving your feet. Young players have an especially hard time with this, mainly because of their lack of skating and turning skills.

12. Work, work, work on backwards skating and turning. A defenseman must be as comfortable going backwards and sideways as forward. Young players all the way through college must continue to practice these skills as their bodies grow and change.

13. Do not pass to covered forwards – carry it, cross-pass to partner or “eat it” if necessary. Defensemen must gain confidence in cross-passing and in carrying the puck to open up the attack, allowing their forward to get open. Feeding the opposition’s point has been a weakness at all levels since day one.

14. Check only for purpose. Checking just for the sake of a hit is seldom of value and creates risk of self-injury, missed checks and open opposition players, as well as penalties.

15. Communicate — with your partner, to goalkeeper and your forwards. It is an important part of teamwork. Do not communicate with opposing players

— it seldom is of value and exposes your emotions.

16. Follow your attacking forwards closely (20 to 30 feet) and move quickly into the offensive zone after the puck goes into the zone. Many defensemen are lazy moving up the ice and allow the puck to turn around before they get over the blue line.

17. The blue lines are critical. Always clear the puck over the defensive blue line as a first priority – then move up to the blue line quickly. Defend both blue lines with as much vigor as is reasonable as the opposition attacks down the ice – they are natural points to stop the attack.

18. Learn the critical skills of flipping the puck (out of the zone) and deflecting the puck off the glass (out of the zone) at the earliest possible age. They are key puck movement skills.

19. Learn the skills and situations to cross pass and cooperate with your partner to move the puck out of the defensive zone.

20. Know your job in the defensive zone and do it consistently and well.


Filed under: coaching, Defense, Defensemen


The D must create good gap control as soon as the play is identified as 2 vs 1 to limit the attacker’s options and slow down the attack. The fewer passes the attackers are allowed to make the easier it is for the goalie as it cuts down on the need for re-positioning.
The D’s initial positioning is between the attackers initially with one hand on the
stick and stick extended from the body.
The D must keep their head on a swivel to check the positioning of the player off the puck.
The stick can be used to push the puck carrier wider or lure him into
making a pass before he’s ready.
As play progresses below the tops of the circles, the stick should be pointed a bit more toward the puck carrier than directly in front of the body to cut down on
the space between stick and skates that attacker could use to pass the puck.
The defender should shade slightly toward the player without the puck. The D cannot allow a pass to get through once the puck is below the tops of the circles
If play continues below the dots, the D uses two hands on the stick to react on attempted passes. The D’s body positioning should be at a 45 degree angle to help in denying a pass.
At this point, the player with the puck will be forced to shoot. The D maintains two hands on the stick and is prepared to react to any rebound
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Courtesy of Drills etc.

Filed under: Defense, Defense, Defensemen



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